The New York State Senate approved a much-debated same-sex marriage bill late Friday evening, bringing the state one signature away from becoming the sixth and largest in the nation to legalize weddings between gay and lesbian couples.
Approved by a vote of 33 to 29, the legislation, which passed the state Assembly last week, came to a vote on the Senate floor at approximately 10 p.m. Following lengthy explanations from senators regarding their votes, the final tally was recorded at 10:30 p.m. The bill now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature and ultimate approval to become law. Cuomo’s confirmation is all-but guaranteed; ensuring its passage has been one of his top priorities of his administration.
The chamber erupted in applause following the Senate’s vote, with chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and a lone woman’s voice stating “Thank you.”
Debate over the controversial legislation reached heightened levels in recent days as both opponents and advocates of same-sex marriage crowded the state Capitol’s hallways carrying signs and voicing their stances to lawmakers.
The Senate’s approval—let alone allowing it to reach the body’s floor for a vote—hinged since the Assembly’s passage on the Republican caucus, requiring just a single GOP member to vote in favor of the bill in order for it to pass. Cuomo had made securing its approval a top priority and had been working with Republican senators to ensure its passage.
At a fundraising event before gay and lesbian advocates in New York City Thursday, President Barack Obama publically expressed his support for gay rights but fell short of calling for approval of the controversial same-sex marriage bill.
Speculation continued throughout Friday whether there would even be a vote. The Senate’s regular legislative session ended Monday; with extended sessions each day since. An informal poll conducted by the Long Island Press last week of the Senate’s nine Republicans from Long Island found that none would vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Ultimately, none did.
Definitive news of the vote was first announced by Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) early Friday evening via a post on his Web page.
“After many hours of deliberation and discussion over the past several weeks among the members, it has been decided that same sex marriage legislation will be brought to the full Senate for an up or down vote,” he wrote. “The entire Senate Republican Conference was insistent that amendments be made to the Governor’s original bill in order to protect the rights of religious institutions and not-for-profits with religious affiliations. I appreciate the Governor’s cooperation in working with us to address these important issues and concerns.”
“This is a very difficult issue and it will be a vote of conscience for every member of the Senate,” he added.
The bill’s approval reverberated with waves of praise and joy throughout Long Island’s gay and lesbian community. At the Long Island GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) Community Center in Bay Shore, more than 50—both young and old, though mostly young—rallied throughout the afternoon and into the night, ushering in the long-awaited vote with shouts and cheers of support.
“Let them vote!” they chanted. “Let them vote!”
Music played so loud it shook the walls. Some danced as the Senate proceedings flashed across a television screen flanked by balloons; others simply sat in their chairs, or on the floor, and watched as the night unfolded. More than 40,000 people watched the Senate’s proceedings along with them, according to the chamber’s live video stream broadcasted on its website.
Blue, green, yellow and red lights splashed color across the floor and onto the jovial crowd. A collage of the Earth wrapped in a rainbow alongside the words “Empower” and “Transform” decorated one wall. American and gay pride flags dangled from nearby poles. Many held hands.
“What are we excited about?!” one woman screamed.
“Marriage!” shouted the group, many standing up and clapping.
Roy Schmitt, 63, of Lynbook, who had to travel to Canada in 2005 in order to wed his boyfriend of 25 years, told the Press there was no other place on Long Island he’d rather be to commemorate such a historic and joyous occasion.
“I have to be here to celebrate with the young people who are going to have the rights we never had,” he said. “[The passage] will send a message that it’s a civil rights issue, not a religious issue.”
Ronna Weiss, another supporter in attendance told the Press she has a straight and a gay daughter—and that her straight daughter is getting married this summer.
“My gay daughter is in a committed relationship and I want to see her be able to marry as well,” she said. “I want her to have the rights and responsibilities that my straight daughter has.”
Hempstead resident Patrick Young, who is straight and married, was another who attended to offer support.
“It struck me as crazy that the government could tell you who you could and couldn’t marry,” he said, adding that when he was growing up, African Americans and whites also couldn’t legally get married. “I think it’s important that their relationships be respected.”
As the vote approached, Dawn Castagna, 41, of Bay Shore, held hands with her girlfriend of 16 years, Pat Colao, 61, also of Bay Shore.
“My heart is going out of my chest,” she gasped. “My stomach is in my throat.”
When the final tally was read, those in attendance hugged and kissed each other. Some broke down in tears.
Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” filled the air.